Moya-Smith: Does the Liberty Bell Ring For Native Americans? A Raw Review of the DNC
DNC. Notes spanning days 2 & 3 & 4: All a blur now. This bar reeks of vomit. Old vomit. At a joint called Fridays in Philly. “I think the president or Hillary Clinton is staying across the street,” the black bartender tells me. “Right there. At The Logan.” Secret Service man the hotel doors. “That’s a lot of guns and sunglasses,” I utter. “Best to stay inside.”
I left the Pennsylvania Convention Center a bit ago. The Kentucky Derby in there. Fancy hats. Bad shoes. Red eyes. Glares between Hillary fans and Bernie Bros in the hallway. Raw energy. Feeling the Bern in this town this week has left so many scalded and scarred and scared and black-balled and bruised. Down, but not out. A moment ago, a party of fake smiles sauntered by. Too much to handle at this hour. No coffee in me yet. Time to leave.
Inside the Wells Fargo Center now. Crammed. Sardines in here. Posh sardines. Salty bastards. Hot air.
City Hall earlier. Cardboard placards buoy above a sea of skulls down there. “RIP DNC” and “Hillary Lies Matter.” Everyone sunburnt. No shade. “We’re sick and tired,” a woman from Arizona says to a reporter visibly suffering from heat exhaustion. The woman is in her element. Totally fine. His knees buckle, however. Ninety-three degrees today in Philly. The stench of hot, rotting trash hits you. Parts of the city resembles Brooklyn. Just less hipsters and foaming rats at your feet. Narrow streets. Underwear drying on the line over there. I can relate.
Meanwhile, back here at the scene, the DNC, people can’t find a seat. Volunteers in yellow shirts block the doorway with their bodies against a hoard of excited Dems. “Try section 204. I hear they’re still letting people in there,” one says. I walk a full 360-degrees ‘round the Center. No luck. No seats. No hope. A woman in a Hillary hat, once excited, now stands in tears. No chance of getting in the arena. What’s left, then? The hallway. The muffled echo of the speaker blows in. For a moment I consider inviting the poor lady to a drink. Something to take the edge off. Dull the pain. But in an instant she’s gone, running into the fray, sobbing, asking God for a seat. “Please! Please!” Amen. Right. And to those who did land a seat they got to watch Peggy Flanagan, Ojibwe, take the lectern and read a letter to her daughter where she affirmatively stated, “We (Native Americans) are still here.”
I head to the men’s room. A man in the stall sniffs once. Sniffs twice. He booms out the door. Bang! Ready, he is. Wired, for sure. Good idea. Coke and a stale hot dog it is. But the concession line’s too long. I’ve never seen a more dapper crowd clamoring for wieners. And what is the difference between something like the DNC and live theater? Is all of this just The Show? It has all the moving parts of a Broadway production. Lights! Make-up. Celebrities. Dance numbers. A script on the screen. Exhausted interns hoping to make it, break into the biz. And what does any of this have to do with Indian country? Everything, goddamnit. This is our land. Our ancestral home. The old country. “We never left,” Suzan Harjo said. During roll call a few days ago, a torrent of indigenous languages rumbled the walls of the Center in a roar of revitalization. Life again. But then on the final night of the DNC, presidential nominee Clinton failed to mention Native Americans when she spoke of systemic oppression. What a disappointment. Should we take this as an indication of her awareness of racial violence in Indian country? Has she heard the names Allen Locke or Sarah Lee Circle Bear or Mah-Hi-Vist Goodblanket or Rexdale Henry or (more names here) before? Not sure. Here’s hoping.
I slept four hours last night, and I don’t expect to sleep much again tonight. Delayed flight after delayed flight. People fleeing Philadelphia all at once. Bottleneck City. Where’s the Liberty Bell? It didn’t ring for Native Americans then. Does it ring for us now? … Something to contemplate over cheesesteak and fries and and pie at Reading Terminal, the massive market here in Philly where gluttony is god and the chicken sandwiches are good-not-great. But I digress. I always digress.
I met a Trump fan at pub on I think Broad St. A grumpy fucker. Later, I was denied service at an ostensibly straight bar. Can’t remember its name at the moment. Blurry. Ended up at Woody’s, a gay bar. Instant service. Intelligent talk. No ostentatious erudition in here. Just people woke. People aware. A drag queen blows me a kiss. I smile and nod, kinda dorky like. I am a dork, though. A socially awkward Hobbit. And I’m OK with that.
The epilogue to this story is this: When the GOP elected Donald Trump as their presidential nominee they officially became the party of racism and misogyny. No indigenous North American languages were spoken during roll call at the Republican National Convention last week. No recognition of Native American sovereignty at all. Just dystopian soothsayers in sandwich boards shouting “the end is near!” I’m convinced the Democratic Party is the party for Native Americans. We just have to convince Clinton that no good comes from fracking:
“Would you like a glass of water, madam nominee? … No, it’s actually not from this tap here. This is fracked water, madam. You can light it on fire if you want. … And since I have you, can we talk about Leonard Peltier? … Your husband, Bill, claims to be a descendant of the Cherokee. Has he been back home lately? How does he take his fry bread? … Yes, ma’am, I have had a several coffees – well, cappuccinos. The DNC was quite the spectacle, wasn’t it? Man, Bill loves balloons, doesn’t he? Peggy Flanagan was wonderful, wasn’t she? Debra Haaland, too. All the Natives there that night. So about that water. I see you haven’t taken a sip. I wouldn’t either. A filthy water is a filthy earth, and it’s our fault. Fracking. Just say no.”
Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, is the Culture Editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter @simonmoyasmith.
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